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Pot au feu

Instead of the beef short rib, you could use 1.5kg beef oyster blade, cut into two pieces across the width. The oyster blade will cook more quickly than the short-rib (it takes about 1½ hours) and will be very tender and juicy. Begin this recipe a day or two ahead to make the bouillon.

You'll need

1 piece beef short-rib (about 1.5kg), bone in, soaked in cold water for a few hours, drained and brought to room temperature 30 minutes before cooking 2 large onions, peeled and left whole 2 garlic heads, individually wrapped in muslin 1 bouquet garni (see note) 1 chicken (1.6kg-1.8kg) 600 gm veal or pork fillet 4 carrots, scrubbed, halved 2 turnips, peeled to remove 5mm of skin and flesh 4 medium leeks (white part only), outer layer removed 8 6cm lengths beef bone marrow, soaked for several hours in cold water, drained To serve: horseradish cream or horseradish mayonnaise, mustards, cornichons and flaky salt To serve: crusty baguette   Bouillon 1 oxtail (about 1.4kg), trimmed of fat, sectioned and soaked in cold water for a few hours 1 large veal shank, cut into 4 or 5 pieces through the bone (see note) 500 gm each chicken giblets and wings 2 large leeks (white part only), coarsely chopped 2 large onions, skin left on, quartered 2 large carrots, scrubbed and coarsely chopped 3 celery stalks, coarsely chopped 2 large field mushrooms, coarsely chopped 1 bouquet garni (see note)


  • 01
  • For the bouillon, combine oxtail, shank, giblets and wings in a large stockpot (16-18 litres) and place in the sink. Run cold water over the contents, stirring frequently, until the water runs clear (10-15 minutes). Pour off all water, then fill with fresh cold water to cover generously and very slowly bring to the boil over medium heat.
  • 02
  • Skim off the dark scum that rises to the surface of the broth.
  • 03
  • Add a ladleful of ice to the stock along with 300ml cold water, return to the boil and skim again. Repeat this process twice more – this helps clarify the stock and eliminates a lot of the fat and scum that rises to the surface during cooking. Add the remaining ingredients and 1 tbsp salt and slowly return to the boil, skim again, then set at a good simmer, skimming as necessary and adding cold water, until oxtail starts to fall from the bone (2½-3 hours). Remove oxtail (reserve for another use, as described on p62) and continue simmering stock until very well flavoured (3-4 hours). Ladle into a fine sieve lined with muslin (discard solids), divide bouillon among several bowls, cool over bowls of ice mixed with salt and water and refrigerate until well chilled (overnight). Remove any congealed fat from the surface and bring the short rib out of the fridge for 30 minutes before cooking.
  • 04
  • Bring the bouillon to the boil in a large saucepan over medium heat, add the short rib, onions, garlic, bouquet garni and 1 tbsp salt and slowly return to the boil. Skim and simmer until short rib is tender when pierced with the tip of a small sharp knife (1¼-1½ hours), then set aside.
  • 05
  • After 1¼ hours, add chicken to bouillon, simmer for 30 minutes, then add veal or pork fillet and simmer until the chicken juices run clear when pierced in the thickest part of the thigh and fillet is cooked through (10-15 minutes). Meanwhile, preheat oven to 100C. Combine carrots, turnips and leeks in a large saucepan, add a few ladles of bouillon and top up with water, season lightly and simmer until tender (20-25 minutes). Transfer vegetables with a slotted spoon (reserve cooking liquid) to a warm covered dish and keep warm in oven. Once chicken and fillet are cooked, remove from broth and set aside.
  • 06
  • Arrange bone marrow in a saucepan large enough to fit in a single layer, add enough of the reserved vegetable cooking water to cover, bring to the boil over medium-high heat, then reduce heat to low and poach gently for 10 minutes. Transfer short rib, chicken and fillet to a warm platter, cover loosely with foil and transfer to oven. Turn off oven and rest for 15 minutes. To serve, carve meats and chicken and serve with the vegetables, bone marrow, garnishes and crusty bread. Return the bouillon to the boil, skim surface and serve in a soup tureen.

Note To make a bouquet garni, tie 8 parsley stalks, 5 thyme sprigs, 2 fresh bay leaves, 4 strips lemon rind, 4 cloves of bruised garlic and 1 teaspoon cracked black peppercorns and 4 cloves in a piece of muslin. Ask your butcher to cut the veal shank into pieces for you. 

Pot au feu

The French think of pot au feu as their national soup but it offers so much more than a hearty bowl of broth. Its origin is from farming and peasant folk, who would keep a pot on the go year round, adding meat trimmings and vegetables to enrich this staple dish. Only richer folk could afford to add a piece of beef for Sunday lunch.

There are innumerable regional variations, but most are based on beef or very often just chicken, depending on the availability of produce. Some include bacon and root vegetables while others use lamb; there's even one calling for a pig's head as well as tripe sausages. Pot au feu has other titles such as potée, garbure, poule au pot and hochepot, and traditionally the soup is presented in its cooking pot while the meats and vegetables are served on platters and garnished with horseradish, cornichons, salt and mustard. It's a complete meal, so just serve a light entrée or vegetable dish before it and follow it with perhaps cheese or a light dessert such as floating islands.

The initial preparation of a pot au feu requires some care to produce a clean-tasting bouillon. You need to soak the oxtail in cold water for several hours or overnight to release the blood, then drain it and place it in a clean sink with the veal shank and chicken giblets, washing the meat several times under cold running water. The next step is blanching to remove as much scum and fat as possible before cooking. It takes a little time, but the clarity of the bouillon is your reward. Keep skimming the stock until it looks pretty clear, maintaining a gentle simmer; not static but a continual slow movement, which will draw out the impurities. I try to do this while I'm cooking another meal or doing something else that keeps me in the kitchen.

You'll have oxtail left over from making the broth; I like to use it to make a rich pasta sauce or a brawn. As soon as the oxtail sections have cooled, pull off the flesh and discard the discs and surplus fat. For a pasta sauce, combine the meat with a fresh tomato sauce and lots of parsley, three cloves of chopped garlic and the finely grated rind of two lemons, then toss it with spiral pasta and parmesan. For brawn, add six leaves of softened gold-strength gelatine to 300ml warm well-seasoned bouillon and stir until the mixture is cooled. Add the oxtail and parsley, garlic and zest as for the pasta sauce, then place it in a bowl for six hours to set. Serve it with mayonnaise and a salad.

Should there be any leftover bouillon it will freeze well to use as a base for soups, sauces or other braised meat dishes. Care should be taken to strain the hot stock and encourage it to cool quickly to avoid spoilage. This is best done by placing the bouillon over a bowl of ice mixed with a handful of salt and iced water. Stir the bouillon as frequently as practicable until it's well cooled, then refrigerate it. Remove the fat once it has congealed and freeze the stock in containers.

It's best to make the stock the day before for a clean-tasting broth. On the day of serving, a grand pot au feu needs up to five hours' cooking to tenderise the tougher cuts of beef and veal shank while chicken and vegetables may be added later. I generally use beef short-rib, beef bone marrow, chicken and veal or pork fillet, thus reducing the cooking time without compromising the flavour.

The one non-traditional garnish I really enjoy is a beautiful mayonnaise flavoured with horseradish. I add drained pure horseradish to a thick homemade mayonnaise, then lighten it with a little whipped crème fraîche - and wow, does it enrich the broth.

At A Glance

  • Serves 8 people
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At A Glance

  • Serves 8 people

Featured in

Jun 2014

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